After over a year without athletic competition, the men’s heavyweight rowing team brought Cornell athletics back to Cayuga’s waters in a dominant performance against Marist and No. 17-ranked Hobart on May 8.
The varsity, second varsity and third varsity teams each took first in their respective regattas, sweeping the competition in front of the home crowd after not taking to the competition field since the fall of 2019. With the victory, the varsity team moved up to 15th in the latest Intercollegiate Rowing Coaches Association (IRCA) poll which ranks college rowing programs across the country.
The stands, however, were not as packed as they were at the team’s last outing. Cornell’s social distancing guidelines prohibited large gatherings on the shore, meaning friends, family, and fans were more sparse and spread out than usual for such an event.
As opposed to lining the shores to pre-pandemic levels, organizers set up designated seating and live streams of the races to accommodate social distancing regulations.
Even with smaller crowds, the prospect of being back in action was enough to get the team excited to get on the water once more.
“The enthusiasm and spirit wasn’t lost on any of us,” said Teevyah Yuva Raju ’22, one of the coxswains on the team. “The energy was phenomenal and as Cornell’s first sports competition since the pandemic began – we were eager to take the race on by storm.”
Despite holding practices since last year, many rowers held doubts about their chance to compete during the 2020-2021 academic year due to the Ivy League’s decision to cancel multiple athletic seasons — which took a toll on the team’s morale.
“At the beginning of this year we were told to expect an incredibly low chance of racing, and as coxswains the responsibility falls on us to ensure that our teammates are motivated,” Yuva Raju said. “So we were grateful for every opportunity we got to be at the boathouse or in Teagle, even if it was in small groups of 10.”
While the team was the first at Cornell to receive the long-awaited news that they could return to competition, they were only given a week’s notice to become regatta-ready. The crunched schedule, however, did not deter the members of the heavyweight rowing team. After months of preparation, they were finally ready to put their work to use and give it their all in the boat.
“It was an electrifying feeling for our coaches and teammates to be back on the water doing what we love most,” Yuva Raju said. “This experience gave us the opportunity to demonstrate through passion, determination, and teamwork we can overcome any barrier that stands in our way.”
With the rowing team’s dominant outing being the first athletic competition to return, athletes see a glimmer of hope as they eye their seasons next year.
Still, easing back into old practices takes time. The most recent regatta showed that Cornell is still willing to get creative in the name of public safety and fan satisfaction.